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First Aid

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Diarrhea and Vomiting

Diarrhea and vomiting can be the presenting signs of almost anything from a bad case of nerves to potentially fatal illnesses such as pancreatitis and kidney failure, so at no time should "home remedies" be tried for more than a day, and if the dog is running a fever or acting sick, they shouldn't be tried at all.

Vomiting tends to be a more serious sign than diarrhea, and a dog that vomits more than twice in a 12 hour period without an obvious cause (like vomiting up the plastic squeaker from the favorite toy) should be seen by a veterinarian. All you can do at home is withhold food for a meal, then start feeding small, bland meals about 8 hours later. Bland diets for dogs can be made at home with plain white rice (cooked according to package directions) combined with boiled chicken, boiled hamburger or low fat cottage cheese. Use 2 parts rice to 1 part protein source, and start out feeding about a half cup at a time, every couple of hours. Make sure the dog is drinking and keeping water down. Any dog that can't keep down water needs veterinary care.

Diarrhea is far more common and somewhat less frightening. Dogs get into stuff and don't tell us about it. They get scared and nervous for reasons only they understand. All of this can result in diarrhea. As long as the dog is active, alert, playful, eating and drinking, and does not have a fever, there are some things you can try. The easiest fix for most cases of diarrhea of unknown cause is adding fiber to the diet. Pumpkin is a good source of fiber, and adding 1/2 can to each meal for a big dog may do the trick. If not, you can try Pepto Bismol at a dose of 1-2 milliliters per kilogram of body weight. That's about 3 1/2 tablespoons for a 120 pound dog. If things still aren't getting better, it's time to call for help. Other over-the-counter remedies have more risks and side-effects, and should not be used without consulting a veterinarian. If diarrhea persists for more than 2 days, in spite of your best efforts, seek veterinary care to avoid possible dehydration.

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Ear Infections

First and foremost, ear infections are seldom a distinct entity without an underlying cause. Once in a great while a dog will have a single ear infection, have it treated and never have another, but that is the exception, not the rule.

Probably the most common cause of ear infections in dogs is an allergy of some kind. It may be a food allergy or and inhalant allergy, but most dogs with recurrent ear infections are allergic to something. Sometimes, treating the underlying allergies and treating the ears will solve the problem. Other times, the ears have been infected for so long that the tissue becomes abnormal and surgical intervention is the only hope we have for providing comfort. There are different surgical options available for varying degrees of disease.

The simple part of treating ear infections is the ear infection itself. A swab of the material collecting in the ear canal examined under a microscope will tell us what organisms are present, and we can use topical medications to get rid of them. The hard part is figuring out why the ear infection is there in the first place. If we find a foreign body in the ear, like a grass awn, we have a solution. If not, the hunt is on! To dispel a few myths, floppy ears do not lead to ear infections, swimming does not cause ear infections, bathing does not cause ear infections, plucking hair does not cause ear infections. Foreign bodies, metabolic diseases like hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing's Syndrome), and allergies can and do cause ear infections.

Topical treatment may be able to control mild cases of chronic ear infections, but don't go into this thinking it will be an easy thing to fix. It is often the tip of an enormous iceberg.

Recognizing when your dog may have an ear infection is relatively simple. Often, the first sign is a bad odor coming from one or both ears. The dog may shake his/her head a lot, and scratch at the affected ear(s) constantly. Looking closely at the ear, you may notice redness around the opening to the ear canal or discharge, either very dark brown waxy material or yellowish pus coming from the ear. All ear infections need to be seen by a veterinarian.

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Happy Tail

The only happy thing about "happy tail" is usually the dog who creates it. This condition occurs when a dog is confined in a small space such as a kennel or narrow hallway, and wags his/her tail so hard that the tip becomes abraded or even lacerated from contact with the container. Sometimes it can be managed by bandaging, and as with other types of bandages. The problem with maintaining bandages on dogs with happy tail is that they are HAPPY (crazy) dogs who have little interest in holding still for such nonsense. It can be done by one person, but having an extra pair of hands is definitely an advantage. Some dogs will eventually stop beating their tails up as they get used to their kennel, or if they outgrow the need to be in a kennel. Others, however, will continue to beat their tails bloody, eat their tail wraps and splatter blood on floors, walls, ceilings and furniture.

For these dogs, tail amputation really is the most humane solution.

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Skin Problems

Good nutrition can often make a world of difference in a dog that has been neglected and has poor coat and skin quality. Fatty acid supplements such as DermCaps or 3V Caps often work wonders as well, but remember that diet and supplements work from the inside out, so it will take a month or two to see any improvement. Regularly grooming is also important for proper skin care, but you will need to make sure that you don't over-bathe your dog which can also cause problems. If the dog is itching profusely, has extensive balding, or skin lesions are present, it is important to take your dog to a veterinarian for further testing.

Dermatology is a complex specialty because so many things look alike but act differently and respond uniquely to various treatments. The type of workups typically involved in dealing with a dog with skin problems, is a thorough physical examination, full blood work, skin scrapings, possible fungal cultures and skin cytology (looking at the microorganisms living on the skin under the microscope). If no answers are forthcoming from those tests, there are always more tests to do, including skin biopsies, and sometimes trial treatments. Skin problems are tough to diagnose and treat in most cases and it often takes awhile to get to the answer, and the answer is seldom simple. Some dogs experience chronic skin issues and owners simply have to work with their veterinarian to manage the condition through medications and keep the dog as comfortable as possible.

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Wound Care

Talking about wound care is kind of like talking about car accidents. You could have a little fender-bender or a multiple care pile-up with fatalities. We are going to stick to the fender-benders here and try to help you be able to determine when you need to call the tow truck (vet).

The most common wounds we all tend to see on a regular basis are the result of dog fights. Some of them definitely need veterinary attention. Any time the full thickness of the skin is torn so that you see the muscle underneath the skin, it's probably best to have it attended to by a veterinarian. Some, however, are superficial, and can be dealt with at home. Look at the wound on your dog and imagine it on your own body. Would you go to the ER for stitches or would you put a Band-Aid on it? The same rules apply. The important thing to remember with wound care in dogs is that they are dogs. You clean the wound thoroughly and they go lie in the dirt. Thus, cleanliness becomes even more critical. If you have access to clippers, clip the fur away from the wound so it can be cleaned effectively. Clean any open wound 2-3 times daily. Topical antibiotics may be useful as well. Wounds that are a bit bloodier, but still don't require suturing may need bandages. Pad abrasions are a good example. They heal fairly quickly, they can't be sutured, but they bleed and are painful, so they have to be bandaged.

Wound care consists of cleaning the wound and watching for signs of infection. Redness, swelling, drainage that is thick and yellowish rather than watery and clear to slightly red-tinged, foul odor--all these are reasons to seek veterinary intervention.

As to what to clean the wound with, stick to soap and water or a diluted Betadine mixture. Hydrogen peroxide can actually cause cell damage, and delay healing, so it's best to avoid it. Antibacterial hand soap like Dial is fine. Be sure to rinse thoroughly, as any soap will irritate if left in contact with the skin.

Puncture wounds, even if they are full-thickness, can sometimes be managed at home. To prevent infection, hot pack the wounds several times a day with a warm, clean wash cloth to keep the punctures open and let them heal from the inside out. Cleaning frequently is of utmost importance. These measures may be sufficient to allow small puncture wounds to heal, but pay close attention to the warning signs, as these often need antibiotics.

There are as many kinds of wounds as there are dogs, it seems, and there are many treatment modalities available to help with healing. Basic first aid will work fine in many cases, but the risk of infection is always present and your veterinarian is typically the best resource for determining the level of treatment required.